Op-Ed

Biden: Our Latin America policies are morally bankrupt. Mine reflect American values

Last week gave us more evidence that President Trump’s morally bankrupt re-election strategy relies on vilifying immigrants to score political points while implementing policies that ensure asylum seekers and refugees keep arriving at our border.

Trump threatened the imminent deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants just hours after his State Department confirmed it was cutting off aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — the very countries from which most migrants are fleeing. It’s clear Trump is only interested in using his policies to assault the dignity of the Hispanic community and scare voters to turn out on Election Day, while not addressing the real challenges facing our hemisphere.

We are a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. Our country is made up of hard-working, aspirational people from every culture, from every nation — and that is an indisputable strength. There’s no better example of the richness that’s possible when the United States is closely knit together with our neighbors in Latin America and the Caribbean than the city of Miami. The next president must institute effective immigration reform while restoring regional policies grounded in respect.

That starts by recognizing that DREAMers are Americans, and Congress needs to make it official. The millions of undocumented people in the United States can only be brought out of the shadows through fair treatment, not ugly threats. Trump’s efforts to repeal Temporary Protected Status (TPS) across the board have injected unnecessary uncertainty into the lives of thousands of families. Our asylum system needs to be improved, but the answer is to streamline and strengthen it so that it benefits legitimate claims of those fleeing persecution, while reducing potential for abuse.

And it’s imperative that we secure our borders, but “Build the wall” is a slogan divorced from reality.

It won’t stop the flow of illegal narcotics or human trafficking, both of which come primarily through legal ports of entry. Nor will it stop asylum seekers fleeing the most desperate conditions imaginable and who have the right to have their cases heard. Nor will it stem the numbers of undocumented, most of whom overstay legal visas.

We need to focus instead on improving screening procedures at our legal ports of entry and making smart investments in border technology. These are sensible policies that will do more for our security than a wall ever could.

The true solution to this challenge can be found in Mexico’s increasing prosperity and El Salvador’s improved security situation, which have both been linked to lower levels of migration. As vice president, I led a major, bipartisan effort to address the root causes that push people to flee, relieving pressure on our border by improving security, reducing inequality and expanding economic opportunity in Central America so that people feel safe to stay in their home countries. We were making progress until President Trump replaced sound strategy with hostility and inflammatory rhetoric.

Under Trump, there have been horrifying scenes at the border of kids being kept in cages, tear-gassing asylum seekers, ripping children from their mothers’ arms — actions that subvert American values and erode our ability to lead on the global stage.

At a time when the challenges we face demand a united, regional response, Trump repeatedly invokes racist invective to describe anyone south of the Rio Grande, including calling migrants “animals.” Rather than standing with our partners in the region to take on corruption, transnational criminal groups, climate change and threats to democracy and the rule of law, Trump’s wrong-headed policies are leading us astray at every turn.

Trump has badly misjudged what it will take to bring democracy back to Venezuela, and his increasing belligerence threatens the international coalition of more than 50 countries that recognize Juan Guaidó as the interim president of Venezuela. To date, the administration has made every effort to capitalize politically on the Venezuelan crisis, but its refusal to grant TPS to the thousands of Venezuelans fleeing persecution shows it cares little about the Venezuelan people’s suffering.

Add to that Trump’s badgering Mexico with the threat of tariffs, flinging insults at vital partners such as Colombia and callously limiting the ability of Cuban Americans to reunite with and support their families in Cuba, and the administration’s Latin America policy, at best, is a Cold War-era retread and, at worst, an ineffective mess. Trump’s failures in the region are even more dangerous because China and Russia are becoming increasingly active in the Americas — and that is before we address the simmering crises in Nicaragua, Haiti, Honduras and elsewhere.

As vice president, I led the Obama-Biden administration’s engagements with the region, deepening our partnerships and building relationships rooted in respect that delivered real results.

After four years of Trump taking a wrecking ball to our hemispheric ties, experienced and respected U.S. leadership will be vital to repairing cooperation and addressing shared regional challenges. If elected president, my first step will be to ensure that our policies in the Americas once again reflect our American values.

Joe Biden was the 47th vice president of the United States. He is seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and wrote this op-ed exclusively for the Miami Herald.

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